Deadbeat dads

The shame of absent fathers

21 May 2019 | Social Issues

Although Namibian law holds both parents equally responsible for meeting the basic needs of their children, nearly half of households are run by single mothers, many of whom face severe financial struggles that compound the challenges they are already confronted with.

“The absence of men as fathers in Namibia is a well-known fact,” James Itana of the Regain Trust told Namibian Sun. “Most children in Namibia are being raised by single mothers.”

He said: “The sad reality is that for mothers who come from a lower economic status, the burden to take care of children is immense, considering the fact that they do not have the economic means to do so.”

Anna de Koker (40), like many Namibian women, is a single, unemployed mother of four young children aged five, four, and one, and a baby she is raising alone in single-room shack in Havana.





Although she briefly received help from the father of her youngest child he is recovering from a knife attack and has not been able to help for months. The two fathers of the older three siblings never helped her in any way.

She also has three adult children, aged between 19 and 22, who she raised without the support of their father.

Last week, De Koker admitted there was no food at home, only “a 25-litre water can that is half-empty.” This, she said, is not an unusual situation. She admitted that she has considered sending the children to their grandfather, but does not have the funds to do so now.

She is a food bank beneficiary but none has been delivered the last couple of months for unknown reasons.

She claims that she has given up asking the fathers to help, and visits to the gender ministry and other related government agencies, proved unsuccessful in compelling them to pitch in.

“I don't have the strength for those men anymore. I just feel I will raise them alone. I don't want to ask them for help anymore.”



Hard life

Accessing grants and court orders to compel fathers to pay maintenance or help otherwise, is a near insurmountable challenge for many women who don't have the financial, emotional or other resources required.

“The procedures involved do tend to be lengthy and can deter parents from following through with their complaints,” Itana said.

He advised that a number of organisations, including the Regain Trust, the Legal Assistance Centre and Lifeline/Childline as well as the gender ministry can assist.

Charlemaine Husselmann of Lifeline said De Koker qualifies for grants but “the process is tedious due to excessive paperwork and interventions from social workers.” She added that father's refusing to pay maintenance is a “very common problem”.

Ideally, De Koker could find a job, Husselmann said, but considering the economy and her circumstances this would be a “huge challenge”.



Criminal or social?

De Koker recently came under scrutiny when neighbours reported a possible case of child neglect. Police and paramedics found the four children locked up alone in her shack. The family spent a week at a state hospital.

They were discharged a week later but, De Koker claims since then there have been no follow-up visits by social workers or the police.

Husselmann underlined that although structures are in place to assist mothers like De Koker, social workers and police are “often overworked and understaffed and it is always a challenge to avail enough social workers and police to take up a case and ensure that there is proper case management and follow-through”.

Criminally charging De Koker for alleged child neglect moreover would not have “solved the bigger issue at hand which in my opinion is that men in Namibia are not being held accountable for their actions”, Itana said.

He said ideally the family should receive the necessary psychosocial support services from the relevant government institutions.

Husselmann added that in a case like this, proper case management and interventions are needed to ensure the “needs of both Anna and her children are met”.

Itana said it “is important not to judge people too quickly, since we do not understand the complexities they are dealing with. She herself could be a survivor of gender-based violence.”

Husselmann cautioned: “What happened to the children was due to the economic and social system they and their mother found themselves in. Without support from social workers and the ministry of gender this situation will continue.”



A vicious cycle

The children bear the biggest brunt of absent fathers and state or other assistance.

“We often see children who grow up in such circumstances continue to find themselves in these impoverished conditions, if strong and appropriate interventions are not taken,” Husselmann warned.

Moreover, the children are frequently pushed to “engage in toxic behaviour such as resorting to a life of crime or end up begging on the side of the road which continues the cycle throughout their lives.”

Itana stressed that the implications are numerous, but among them are tendencies to drop out of school, which impacts their education and chances for future employment, and will continue the “cycle of poverty”.

Moreover, a lack of nourishment could lead to stunted growth and many often deal with low self-esteem issues, he said.

Itana emphasised that a father's participation in raising children should not “be regarded as merely helping the mother, but should be seen as a mandatory responsibility and duty. Therefore men cannot and should never be allowed to take a backseat where their parental duties are concerned.”

JANA-MARI SMITH